If you’re about to set foot into a food bank for an emergency parcel what you’re in need of most is money not food.
Emergency food bank referrals for people in need have become the default reaction of many job centre staff, doctors, schools and advice workers across the UK. But what if another type of referral was an option? What if someone facing a Universal Credit delay, a benefits sanction or simply not having enough money for food could access cash instead?
Scotland is leading the way in changing the status quo. The Scottish Welfare Fund is accessible for crisis grants and community care grants and the pioneering work of A Menu for Change is boldly making a difference.
The Big Lottery funded project is supporting pilot projects to develop direct access to financial assistance, working with a variety of service providers on the ground. What’s more A Menu for Change is developing a network of change involving key stakeholders across Scotland as well as advocating for policy changes that would genuinely see levels of food insecurity decrease.
But we need to find out how much progress is being made; we need to know if fewer food parcels are being given out as a result of this innovative work.
Until recently, we didn’t even know how many independent food banks there were across the UK let alone the scale of use.
I’ve identified at least 86 independent food banks across 21 Scottish local authorities on behalf of the Independent Food Aid Network but we still don’t know if demand is increasing or crucially decreasing within the independent sector.
Most independent food banks will collect data on food parcel distribution but this hasn’t been collected nationally or regionally. The only existing data on food parcel distribution comes from the network of Trussell Trust food banks – according to its latest figures for Scotland, 170,625 emergency 3-day food parcels were given out by 119 food bank centres last year.
These figures don’t account for the other 40% of Scottish food banks, nor food aid given out by other providers.
The Independent Food Aid Network and A Menu of Change have now joined forces to gather food parcel distribution statistics from Scottish independent food banks. Work is beginning now and I’d love to hear from any independent food bank or food parcel distributor that collects data and would like to be involved.
We’ll be collecting statistics and developing a “common measure” across the sector over September and October. By November we hope to create a data collection form for 2019 with the collaboration of food banks working on the ground.
IFAN and A Menu for Change share a vision of a country without the need for emergency food aid – with this ground-breaking project we hope to see progress towards that goal and fewer parcels being given out as cash referrals take hold and the root causes of food insecurity are tackled.
If you’d like to find out more or are an independent food bank or food bank style operation in Scotland that would like to be involved, please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find out more about independent food bank mapping here: www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/mapping
Author: Sabine Goodwin, Research and Campaigns Coordinator, Independent Food Aid Network